MVW Travels: Day 02, Toronto and Istanbul

Dateline: Istanbul, Turkey—01 Mar. 2017

If yesterday was about trains, today is all about the planes. Specifically the Turkish Airlines 777-300 that flew me into Istanbul.

Boeing 777-300ER safety card.
Boeing 777-300ER safety card.

It's the biggest plane I've ever been on. The inflight entertainment system had screens in the back of every seat. I wasn't sleepy at the beginning of the flight, so I watched two movies I had been putting off seeing, Jack Reacher Never Go Back and The Accountant.

Sadly, when I wanted to get some sleep, I couldn't.

Toronto Air Transportation

We were a bit late leaving Toronto. The gate was the usual cluster of people jockeying for position to get on first. They claimed they would board by rows from back to front, but in reality they only called for the back most one, then it was a free for all. I just merged into the line, not bothering to find the end.

A nice feature of the large planes is the increase in overhead storage. The economy section had eleven seats across with two aisles. There were bins on both sides of each aisle which provided plenty of room.

This flight was the longest I'll stay in one place on the inbound trip to Georgia. The Istanbul layover is the second. Flying economy class will almost always be uncomfortable. It's the trade off made to get a lower price. But it turns out I traded my sleep to get it. I just couldn't find a position that was comfortable. It was better than the small jet that got me to Toronto, but it didn't magically turn into a bed like the ones in first and business class do.

It was nice of Turkish Airlines to provide a "sleepy time kit" with socks, slippers, eye mask, toothbrush, and lip balm. The eye mask was a bit tight, but otherwise worked to block out the cabin lights. I got the most use out of the slippers. They'll be used in place of the flip-flops I brought. Since they fold up so much smaller, I might even dump the flops for them.

We were given two meals during the flight, dinner and breakfast. It was a relief that they were better than average. On these long haul flights alcohol with the meals is included. I guess they figure it's not worth nickel and diming the poor suckers in steerage. I opted to try raki, which is a Turkish liquor that's similar to Ouzo but with a stronger licorice flavor. I did ask before ordering just to be sure. I was hoping it would help me sleep, but it didn't. Watching the second movie was a mistake. It kept me awake and I missed a chance to sleep.

I've been calling this fight a "red-eye" because it left around midnight Toronto time, but because of the time change it landed in the afternoon in Istanbul. Most of the flight was during the day, as we flew into the rising sun. The window shades did their job, and the cabin crew kept the overhead lights dim to mimic nighttime for most of the flight.

Over the clouds, and into the sun.
Over the clouds, and into the sun.

The next leg into Tbilisi is the true red-eye.

The exciting part(!) was during the approach to Istanbul. First we had to circle several times due to heavy air traffic. Then on approach we were waved off only a few hundred feet above the ground. (The seat-back screen displayed flight information like altitude and speed.) Then after another loop, we made a landing into fog so dense visibility couldn't have been more than fifty feet.

The fog on the ground as we landed. The cabin applauded when the wheels touched down.
The fog on the ground as we landed. The cabin applauded when the wheels touched down.

Because of the number of flights grounded, we couldn't get a spot at the terminal and the plane wound up parked a good ways away. The ground crew bused us to the terminal. After a short wait to get my boarding pass for my connection onto Tbilisi, I was through security again. No body scanner this time, just a regular metal detector. Although I did get a few questions about the monopod strapped to my pack. It sounded like they've never seen on before. I just said, "for camera" and mimed taking their picture and was waved through. Only when I was putting on my boots (again) I realized I had my small mobile phone and a set of EarPods in my shirt pocket. I guess there wasn't enough metal in them to ring me up.

Total time from Toronto to Istanbul counting time to eat once on the ground, 12 hours, 5 minutes.
Total time from Toronto to Istanbul counting time to eat once on the ground, 12 hours, 5 minutes.

This leg of the trip took an honest twelve hours. I started the stopwatch when we backed away from the gait in Toronto and stopped it when I sat down in an Istanbul airport cafe to write the first part of this article. I forgot to stop it when we landed, but this is a more accurate reflection of how much time I spent doing air travel related stuff.

The Ataturk Airport concourse.
The Ataturk Airport concourse.

Istanbul Ataturk Airport

Ataturk Airport is a unique experience while at the same time being just another airport. It's truly a crossroads of the world. I think I've overheard most every major language and few minor ones. But overall, only speaking English hasn't been a handicap for me. So far the only person I've interacted with who didn't understand English was a bathroom attendant. She held my coat while I washed my hands, and didn't understand when I tried to point out that the stall I used was out of toilet paper. So I just tipped her a Lira coin I received as change from the Burger King in the food court. That got my jacket back at least.

The food court has one side devoted to American fast food. There's a Popeyes and Sbarro on either side of the Burger King. I decided to try a Whopper, mostly to see how it differed from the US version. I'd say it was about 80% the same. It was a bit drier from the heat lamps and had an excess of mayo.

There's also several lounges, but the prices are on the high side. The one with the shower is €60. As much as I'd like to bathe right now, that would get me several nights of lodging in Georgia.

The waiting game

So now I sit. I wrote the beginnings of the at a cafe on the second level of the airport concourse around 8:00 PM. Then I did some exploring. I finished later in the food court.

It's currently 9:30 PM and my connection to Tbilisi doesn't leave for four more hours. Now that I'm ready to upload, I'll activate my two hours of free wifi, then I can catch up on the news. I hope the world hasn't exploded and I didn't hear about it.

The wifi is provided by Turk Telekom, and you register with a mobile number and they send you text to activate it. I have a T-Mobile prepaid SIM in it from home (it's my emergency backup phone). Surprisingly, it works just fine in Istanbul, but didn't in Toronto. I found that odd, but it lets me get the free wifi here. In Toronto, the wifi was provided by the airport, and didn't have any limits other than being overloaded when large groups of people were waiting at the gates.

MVW Notes

Much the same as yesterday, the iPad Mini is pulling its weight. I started out with templates for these articles in an app that syncs with my Gitlab repositories. There, I have a continuous integration script that runs the raw markdown through Pandoc, then posts it to WordPress. I was using Ulysses in external file mode to edit them. The downside is that when using external files, Ulysses uses plain Markdown. When editing native files, it uses Markdown XL, which allows things like image embedding.

The Gitlab/Pandoc workflow is great for articles with lots of text. But it breaks down when I want to include several images. This is a limitation of the WordPress posing script I wrote, and I don't want to try and modify it while I'm on the road. So I'm just using Ulysses to write and post. It will upload the images when it sends to WordPress. This saves me an image upload step, and makes life easier with limited and slow wifi, as I don't have to copy and past each image link after uploading.

I have been coping the text back to the Git app, after Ulysses uploads it. This way I'll still have an separate archive. Those are the ones I'll run through Pandoc once I'm home to normalize the text and convert these trip reports to Part II of the MVW ebook.

What's next?

On to Georgia, and the report will cover a full day in-country. I arrive at 6:00 AM, and hope to get a feel for Tbilisi, and get some recommendations about things to do and see while I'm there.


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